By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Lindsey Street improvement project was the highest-ranked project in the history of the region and will receive maximum federal dollars.
Altogether, 16 Norman transportation projects qualified for nearly 40 percent of available federal funding for the central Oklahoma region, city officials learned recently.
The Association of Central Oklahoma Governments recently identified transportation infrastructure projects for federal funding in the 2015-2018 Transportation Improvement Plan Update. Norman competes with 40 entities for the same dollars.
“Each year, we’re up against a new set of competitors and a new set of projects,” Norman Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.
ACOG’s current plan will include 16 of the 22 projects Norman staff submitted, which adds up to $27,508,194 — 39.5 percent — of the $69,480,000 apportionment of federal funds to ACOG for Federal Fiscal Year 2015-2018.
“We do as well as any city in the metro because we’re really focused,” O’Leary said.
Several of the funded projects are part of the $42 million transportation bond voters approved in August 2012.
In addition to the Lindsey Street project, three other bond projects are identified for funding, including the Main Street bridge over Brookhaven Creek, 12th Avenue Southeast from Cedar Lane to State Highway 9 and 24th Avenue Southeast from Lindsey to Robinson streets.
The project on Cedar Lane from 12th Avenue Southeast to just east of 24th Avenue Southeast is under way and is receiving $6,231,280 through FFY 2013.
Two other bond projects, one on East Alameda Street and another on 36th Avenue Northwest from Tecumseh Road to Indian Hills Road, will likely receive funding past FFY 2018. However, there are always chances to come back next year and win a spot on the current funding plan.
“The key is staying committed to the projects,” City Transportation Engineer Angelo Lombardo said.
Making tangible progress on projects can help them rank higher in subsequent years. The city will proceed with design and right of way acquisitions on many of these projects.
“It’s a moving target until you get to the end,” O’Leary said of the funding game.
Safety features, impact on air quality, multimodal components like sidewalks and bike lanes, and project readiness are part of the rating process. A few points can make a big difference, Lombardo said.
However, the federal funding picture this year isn’t all sunny skies ahead. While the Lindsey Street project garnered the maximum amount allowed —$9,727,200, or 56 percent, of the year’s federal funding for this region — it was less than city staff had hoped. Estimates in the bond proposal were $11.5 million for the federal share on the Lindsey project.
O’Leary said the Lindsey Street design team will crunch the numbers and try to save the $1.8 million difference. While the passage of the bond freed up about $11 million that can be channeled toward other capital projects, O’Leary said he doesn’t think the city will have to tap into that money.
“Our first priority is can we reduce the cost of the project,” O’Leary said.
Because it’s less than a 10 percent difference, O’Leary believes it can be done.
“That’s certainly our goal — to bring this project in consistent with these numbers,” he said.
Another less than bright spot on funding horizon is the Franklin Road bridge over Little River. That project was identified for federal funding earlier, and the city had anticipated it to be continued over in ACOG’s FFY 2014 projects. Instead, a McClain County project ranked high, and the Franklin Road bridge just missed the mark to qualify.
Projects that failed to make the funding cut will be resubmitted in the summer for reconsideration.
Lombardo said city staff will look for opportunities to amend the current Federal Fiscal Year Transportation Improvement Plan to advance projects that are ready for construction. At this point, the Franklin Road Bridge Replacement Project over Little River appears to be a good candidate.
“What we are doing as a staff is positioning ourselves for an end-of-year amendment to the Federal Fiscal Year 2014,” Lombardo said.
Twenty-five years ago, Norman would not have been able to qualify for this much federal funding. Back then, funding was based on population — Norman’s share would be about 8 percent under the old plan.
“The new transportation bill, and particularly those dollars that were spent in metro areas, are now based on need,” Lombardo said. “A criteria to rate projects based on need was developed.”
Norman is a growing city with high traffic counts and aging infrastructure. Funding based on need serves the city well.
In recent years, a transportation safety element emerged that allows some projects to receive 100 percent federal funding, and Norman has been able to take advantage of those designated dollars. Ten percent of federal funding is set aside for safety projects such as traffic signals, striping and school zone flashing lights.
“We have done really well historically when it comes to that,” Lombardo said.
O’Leary said another exciting element emerged in the funding games this year. Oklahoma City made the case for funding the Santa Fe Rail station hub. The city had already been awarded a $13.6 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. Getting another slice of the federal pie will help bring this project to fruition.
The Santa Fe hub is key for Norman because all of the metro rail legs will eventually tie into it, and the route from Oklahoma City through Moore to Norman is a key transportation component.
“We supported that; everyone did,” O’Leary said. “That elevates our commuter rail study.”
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